Friday, June 14, 2024

Bishop John Stowe Reaffirms Support for Transgender Diocesan Hermit

The Diocese of Lexintgon, Kentucky, led by Bishop John Stowe, has reaffirmed its support for a vowed diocesan hermit who recently came out as transgender, acknowledging “his witness of discipleship, integrity and contemplative prayer for the Church.”

On Pentecost Sunday, Brother Christian Matson, a hermit Kentucky who made vows to Stowe, announced that he is transgender. The Lexington diocese responded positively to the announcement with a brief statement:

“On Pentecost Sunday, Brother Christian Matson, a professed hermit in the Diocese of Lexington, has made it public that he is a transgender person. Brother Christian has long sought to consecrate his life to Christ in the Church by living the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. He has consistently been accompanied by a competent spiritual director and has undergone formation in the Benedictine tradition. He does not seek ordination, but has professed a rule of life that allows him to support himself financially by continuing his work in the arts and to live a life of contemplation in a private hermitage. Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv., accepted his profession and is grateful to Brother Christian for his witness of discipleship, integrity and contemplative prayer for the Church.”

Matson medically transitioned while in college. A few years later, he converted to Catholicism as he felt called “to be in relationship with God in contemplative prayer.” Matson does not receive a salary or benefits from the diocese, and he supports himself financially through the creative arts. He is spiritually supported by Bishop Stowe, who helped Matson decide when and how to come out. Matson told The Catholic Spirit:

“We (Bishop Stowe and Matson) both think that it is a matter of justice that LGBT people be considered based on their character and on their actual gifts and their actual love of God and (being) desirous of the Church, as opposed to saying (that) this state of being, whether it’s your sexual orientation or gender identity, in itself makes you unfit and uncallable by God.”

Interviewed by Louisville Public Media, Matson stated that he has received support from people all around the world, especially from those who lost hope in the Catholic Church:

“’And the support from trans people all around the world who have been emailing me saying, “I had given up on having a relationship with the church. But seeing that you’ve been welcomed by the church… I feel like I have hoped for having a relationship with God and the church again.” And that’s really who this announcement was for.'”

Responding to those who may believe that his identity is inconsistent with Catholicism, Matson said that, rather than portraying him as a dissenter, “ask me what I actually believe.” He explained further that he believes in “church teaching about the goodness of gender and the human body and the goodness of maleness and femaleness.”

Yet, he also wants people to “acknowledge the complexity” of gender, which has not been “addressed so far in our theology.” The hermit clarified his coming out at Pentecost had been planned long before Dignitas Infinita, the Vatican’s declaration on human dignity which was highly transgender negative, was released.

As part of his contribution to theological discourse, Matson is preparing a book which lays out “the theological argument for transgender inclusion according to orthodox Catholic anthropology,” which accounts for contemporary scientific and social scientific ideas, as well as trans peoples’ experiences. He has launched a crowdfunding campaign to support his work on the book, and more details about the project are available here.

The hermit hopes that his story shows it is possible for transgender people to have a relationship with religion. More dioceses should follow the lead of the Diocese of Lexington by outwardly loving and accepting the LGBTQ+ community. Matson’s offered advice to other trans people:

“I’d say don’t give up. Keep going toward the people who support you. Keep your grounding in the knowledge that you are beloved by God that you are made by God the way you are, and he purposely made you that way, which means he finds something good and how you’re made and something that you have to contribute to the world in the way you were made.”